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[casi] Depleted Uranium's Effect on veterans, Iraqis

This is sickening that the US government has done nothing to investigate
this...but then again, it's no big surprise.
Published on Tuesday, November 12, 2002 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Iraqi Cancers, Birth Defects Blamed on U.S. Depleted Uranium

by Larry Johnson

SOUTHERN DEMILITARIZED ZONE, Iraq -- On the "Highway of Death," 11 miles
north of the Kuwait border, a collection of tanks, armored personnel carriers
and other military vehicles are rusting in the desert.

They also are radiating nuclear energy.

In 1991, the United States and its Persian Gulf War allies blasted the
vehicles with armor-piercing shells made of depleted uranium -- the first
time such weapons had been used in warfare -- as the Iraqis retreated from
Kuwait. The devastating results gave the highway its name.

Six-year-old Fatma Rakwan, being held by her mother at the Basra Hospital for
Maternity and Children, was recently diagnosed with leukemia. (November 12,
2002) Paul Kitagaki Jr. / P-I
Today, nearly 12 years after the use of the super-tough weapons was credited
with bringing the war to a swift conclusion, the battlefield remains a
radioactive toxic wasteland -- and depleted uranium munitions remain a

Although the Pentagon has sent mixed signals about the effects of depleted ura
nium, Iraqi doctors believe that it is responsible for a significant increase
in cancer and birth defects in the region. Many researchers outside Iraq, and
several U.S. veterans organizations, agree; they also suspect depleted
uranium of playing a role in Gulf War Syndrome, the still-unexplained malady
that has plagued hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans.

Depleted uranium is a problem in other former war zones as well. Yesterday,
U.N. experts said they found radioactive hot spots in Bosnia resulting from
the use of depleted uranium during NATO air strikes in 1995.

With another war in Iraq perhaps imminent, scientists and others are
concerned that the side effects of depleted uranium munitions -- still a
major part of the U.S. arsenal -- will cause serious illnesses or deaths in a
new generation of U.S. soldiers as well as Iraqis.


Depleted uranium, known as DU, is a highly dense metal that is the byproduct
of the process during which fissionable uranium used to manufacture nuclear
bombs and reactor fuel is separated from natural uranium. DU remains
radioactive for about 4.5 billion years.

Uranium, a weakly radioactive element, occurs naturally in soil and water
everywhere on Earth, but mainly in trace quantities. Humans ingest it daily
in minute quantities.

DU shell holes in the vehicles along the Highway of Death are 1,000 times
more radioactive than background radiation, according to Geiger counter
readings done for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by Dr. Khajak Vartaanian, a
nuclear medicine expert from the Iraq Department of Radiation Protection in
Basra, and Col. Amal Kassim of the Iraqi navy.

The desert around the vehicles was 100 times more radioactive than background
radiation; Basra, a city of 1 million people, some 125 miles away, registered
only slightly above background radiation level.

But the radioactivity is only one concern about DU munitions.

A second, potentially more serious hazard is created when a DU round hits its
target. As much as 70 percent of the projectile can burn up on impact,
creating a firestorm of ceramic DU oxide particles. The residue of this
firestorm is an extremely fine ceramic uranium dust that can be spread by the
wind, inhaled and absorbed into the human body and absorbed by plants and
animals, becoming part of the food chain.

Once lodged in the soil, the munitions can pollute the environment and create
up to a hundredfold increase in uranium levels in ground water, according to
the U.N. Environmental Program.

Studies show it can remain in human organs for years.

Dr. Khajak Vartaanian, a radiation expert, holds a Geiger counter next to a
hole in an Iraqi tank destroyed by depleted uranium weapons in the Persian
Gulf War in 1991. The shell holes show 1,000 times the normal background
radiation level. (November 12, 2002) Paul Kitagaki Jr. / P-I
The U.S. Army acknowledges the hazards in a training manual, in which it
requires that anyone who comes within 25 meters of any DU-contaminated
equipment or terrain wear respiratory and skin protection, and states that
"contamination will make food and water unsafe for consumption."

Just six months before the Gulf War, the Army released a report on DU
predicting that large amounts of DU dust could be inhaled by soldiers and
civilians during and after combat.

Infantry were identified as potentially receiving the highest exposures, and
the expected health outcomes included cancers and kidney problems.

The report also warned that public knowledge of the health and environmental
effects of depleted uranium could lead to efforts to ban DU munitions.

But today the Pentagon plays down the effects. Officials refer queries on DU
munitions to the latest government report on the subject, last updated on
Dec. 13, 2000, which said DU is "40 percent less radioactive than natural

The report also said, "Gulf War exposures to depleted uranium (DU) have not
to date produced any observable adverse health effects attributable to DU's
chemical toxicity or low-level radiation. . . ."

In response to written queries, the Defense Department said, "The U.S.
Military Services use DU munitions because of DU's superior lethality against
armor and other hard targets."

It said DU munitions are "war reserve munitions; that is, used for combat and
not fired for training purposes," with the exception that DU munitions may be
fired at sea for weapon calibration purposes.

In addition to Iraq and Bosnia, DU munitions were used in Kosovo and Serbia
in 1999.

Also in 1999, a United Nations subcommission considered DU hazardous enough
to call for an initiative banning its use worldwide. The initiative has
remained in committee, blocked primarily by the United States, according to
Karen Parker, a lawyer with the International Educational
Development/Humanitarian Law Project, which has consultative status at the
United Nations.

Parker, who first raised the DU issue in the United Nations in 1996, contends
that DU "violates the existing law and customs of war."

She said there are four rules derived from all of humanitarian law regarding

*   Weapons may only be used in the legal field of battle, defined as legal
military targets of the enemy in war. Weapons may not have an adverse effect
off the legal field of battle.

*   Weapons can only be used for the duration of an armed conflict. A weapon
that is used or continues to act after the war is over violates this

*   Weapons may not be unduly inhumane.

*   Weapons may not have an unduly negative effect on the natural environment.

"Depleted uranium fails all four of these rules," Parker said last week.

On Oct. 17, 2001, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., introduced a bill calling for
"the suspension of the use, sale, development, production, testing, and
export of depleted uranium munitions pending the outcome of certain studies
of the health effects of such munitions. . . ."

More than a year later, the bill -- co-sponsored by Reps. Anibal
Acevedo-Vila, Puerto Rico; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio;
Barbara Lee, D-Ca.; and Jim McDermott, D-Wash. -- remains in committee
awaiting comment from the Defense Department.


Hamdin and his brother Amhid are receiving follow-up treatment after being
treated successfully for leukemia two years ago at the Basra Hospital for
Maternity and Children. (November 12, 2002) Paul Kitagaki Jr. / P-I
Gulf War veterans faced a wide array of potentially toxic materials during
the war: smoke from oil and chemical fires, insecticides, pesticides,
vaccinations and DU.

Of the 696,778 troops who served during the recognized conflict phase
(1990-1991) of the Gulf War, at least 20,6861 have applied for VA medical
benefits. As of May 2002, 159,238 veterans have been awarded
service-connected disability by the Department of Veterans Affairs for health
effects collectively known as the Gulf War Syndrome.

There have been many studies on Gulf War Syndrome over the years, as well as
on possible long-term health hazards of DU munitions. Most have been
inconclusive. But some researchers said the previous studies on DU, conducted
by groups and agencies ranging from the World Health Organization to the Rand
Corp. to the investigative arm of Congress, weren't looking in the right
place -- at the effects of inhaled DU.

Dr. Asaf Durakovic, director of the private, non-profit Uranium Medical
Research Centre in Canada and the United States, and center research
associates Patricia Horan and Leonard Dietz, published a unique study in the
August issue of Military Medicine medical journal.

The study is believed to be the first to look at inhaled DU among Gulf War
veterans, using the ultrasensitive technique of thermal ionization mass
spectrometry, which enabled them to easily distinguish between natural
uranium and DU.

The study, which examined British, Canadian and U.S. veterans, all suffering
typical Gulf War Syndrome ailments, found that, nine years after the war, 14
of 27 veterans studied had DU in their urine. DU also was found in the lung
and bone of a deceased Gulf War veteran.

That no governmental study has been done on inhaled DU "amounts to a massive
malpractice," Dietz said in an interview last week.


Dr. Doug Rokke was an Army health physicist assigned in 1991 to the command
staff of the 12th Preventive Medicine Command and 3rd U.S. Army Medical
Command headquarters. Rokke was recalled to active duty 20 years after
serving in Vietnam, from his research job with the University of Illinois
Physics Department, and sent to the Gulf to take charge of the DU cleanup

Today, in poor health, he has become an outspoken opponent of the use of DU

"DU is the stuff of nightmares," said Rokke, who said he has reactive airway
disease, neurological damage, cataracts and kidney problems, and receives a
40 percent disability payment from the government. He blames his health
problems on exposure to DU.

Rokke and his primary team of about 100 performed their cleanup task without
any specialized training or protective gear. Today, Rokke said, at least 30
members of the team are dead, and most of the others -- including Rokke --
have serious health problems.

Rokke said: "Verified adverse health effects from personal experience,
physicians and from personal reports from individuals with known DU exposures
include reactive airway disease, neurological abnormalities, kidney stones
and chronic kidney pain, rashes, vision degradation and night vision losses,
lymphoma, various forms of skin and organ cancer, neuropsychological
disorders, uranium in semen, sexual dysfunction and birth defects in

"This whole thing is a crime against God and humanity."

Speaking from his home in Rantoul, Ill., where he works as a substitute high
school science teacher, Rokke said, "When we went to the Gulf, we were all
really healthy, and we got trashed."

Rokke, an Army Reserve major who describes himself as "a patriot to the right
of Rush Limbaugh," said hearing the latest Pentagon statements on DU is
especially frustrating now that another war against Iraq appears likely.

"Since 1991, numerous U.S. Department of Defense reports have said that the
consequences of DU were unknown," Rokke said. "That is a lie. We warned them
in 1991 after the Gulf War, but because of liability issues, they continue to
ignore the problem." Rokke worked until 1996 for the military, developing DU
training and management procedures. The procedures were ignored, he said.

"Their arrogance is beyond comprehension," he said. "We have spread
radioactive waste all over the place and refused medical treatment to people
. . . it's all arrogance.

"DU is a snapshot of technology gone crazy."


At the Saddam Teaching Hospital in Basra, Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, a British-trained
oncologist, displays, in four gaily colored photo albums, what he says are
actual snapshots of the nightmares.

The photos represent the surge in birth defects -- in 1989 there were 11 per
100,000 births; in 2001 there were 116 per 100,000 births -- that even before
they heard about DU, had doctors in southern Iraq making comparisons to the
birth defects that followed the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in

There were photos of infants born without brains, with their internal organs
outside their bodies, without sexual organs, without spines, and the list of
deformities went on and on. There also were photos of cancer patients.

Cancer has increased dramatically in southern Iraq. In 1988, 34 people died
of cancer; in 1998, 450 died of cancer; in 2001 there were 603 cancer deaths.

On a tour of one ward of the hospital, doctors pointed out boys and girls who
were suffering from leukemia. Most of the children die, the doctors said,
because there are insufficient drugs available for their treatment.

There was one notable exception, a young boy whose family was able to buy the
expensive drugs on the black market.

Al-Ali said it defies logic to absolve DU of blame when veterans of the Gulf
War and of the fighting in the Balkans share common illnesses with children
in southern Iraq.

"The cause of all of these cancers and deformities remains theoretical
because we can't confirm the presence of uranium in tissue or urine with the
equipment we have," said Al-Ali. "And because of the sanctions, we can't get
the equipment we need."

*   U.S. Department of Defense:

*   The National Gulf War Resource Center, Inc.:

*   Uranium Medical Research Centre:

Dr. Doug Rokke, a U.S. Army health physicist assigned to help clean up
depleted uranium after the Persian Gulf War, will speak in Seattle on
Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. at University Baptist Church, Northeast 47th Street
and 12th Avenue Northeast. Rokke is on a six-state speaking tour sponsored by
The Interfaith Network of Concern for the People of Iraq, and co-sponsored by
the Traprock Peace Center in Deerfield, Mass.

1999-2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer


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